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I enjoy bibimbap.

In American Korean restaurants, bibimbap is typically served as a large bowl of rice with individual portions of each topping arranged over it, like so. The traditional way to eat it is to slather it in sauce, then thoroughly mix it all together, resulting in a fried rice-like mixture.

I prefer not to eat my bibimbap this way - I find that I typically can't eat an entire restaurant serving of bibimbap at a sitting, that when I mix everything together it has too high a proportion of rice for my taste, and that if I add enough sauce to keep the rice from being boring, the dish ends up being unpleasantly gloppy and over-sweet.

Instead, I generally treat it like a stir fry - lightly dress the toppings in sauce, mix them together while leaving the rice underneath alone, and eat bites of rice with toppings. By the time I've eaten all the toppings, I've typically eaten about half of the rice - this is about as much as I can eat before I'm full anyway.

I find that this frequently results in the wait staff at Korean restaurants returning to my table after I've begun eating and informing me that I am not eating my bibimbap properly, under the (not unreasonable) assumption that I just don't know what I'm doing (I am white).


I recently went to a Korean restaurant with some friends (Korean-American and Chinese-American). While deciding what to order, I semi-jokingly said, "Man, I want bibimbap, but I always get yelled at for eating it wrong." My friends encouraged me to go for it. Think, "heck with 'eating it wrong,' it's your food, do what you want!"

Thus affirmed, I ordered bibimbap, started to eat it in my heretical way, and sure enough, our waiter returned to correct me. I nodded along, half-heartedly mixed in the top centimeter or so of my rice in the hopes that he'd be placated, and gave my friends an "I-told-you-so" look as he walked away.

In the future, I would like to:

  • Avoid coming off as disrespectful to Korean cuisine and culture, and not adopt an I-know-better-than-you attitude toward the staff. I am concerned that the obvious solution (just telling the wait staff that I prefer to eat it my way) would communicate this kind of disrespect.
  • If possible, avoid having wait staff return to correct my behavior, as I find this awkward and embarrassing.
  • If possible, continue to eat my bibimbap the way I like (but if this is inconsistent with the previous two goals, c'est la vie).

Is there a way I can accomplish these goals simultaneously?

  • Is this plain bibimbop or dolsot bibimbop (in the hot stone pot)? – Catija Feb 3 '18 at 20:26
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To start with, if your top priority is to avoid being corrected, which is the impression I got from the question, then there's not much you can do while continuing to eat exactly the way you like and not coming off as rude.

That said, here are a few suggestions.

  • Maybe you could order it in a manner that makes it clear how to you want to eat, similar to ordering eggs "very dry" or something. For example, "One order of bibimbap. And could I have the sauce on the side please? I prefer not to mix it all together." I can't see most people being offended by a customer expressing some preferences for their order that aren't too onerous, and they might gather from this how you like to eat your bibimbap (and thus not criticize you).

  • To try a slightly different method, you could try eating it the standard way, but fix some of the problems you have. It sounds to me like you don't like the quantity of sauce or rice. So why not try ordering it with less sauce or rice, and seeing if you can then mix everything together and still enjoy the dish?

  • Try eating at the same restaurant more than once! If you do that, the servers will start to recognize you, and they'll understand that you just like to eat your food differently. Eventually the comments should stop naturally.

But, to be honest, I'd simply take the advice the way it's meant. The servers are probably trying to do you a favor by explaining the "correct" way of eating it. They almost certainly are not offended that you're eating it differently (I'd find it odd if they were, since it doesn't affect them).

So I'd just take the advice, thank them for it, and explain that I just like it better that way. Unless you've found a particularly purist restaurant, I'd be slightly shocked if the servers were hurt by that. But just in case, throw in a compliment to the food or chef—e.g. "The food is really good."

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  • The sauce (as far as I'm aware) always comes on the side. – Catija Feb 3 '18 at 20:47
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    That has also been my experience, but the spirit of that part of the answer (ordering with some specific request effectively communicates that I know what I want) is good advice. +1 – user12377 Feb 3 '18 at 20:49
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    @Obie2.0 It's not that it's served with too much sauce - it's that if I mix in all the rice, I have to choose between going light on the sauce (bland, mostly rice) and too much sauce (gloppy and sweet). If I leave much of the rice behind, I can avoid both outcomes, which is why I eat it this way. – user12377 Feb 3 '18 at 20:56
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    @A-100 it really does sound like my second suggestion (ordering it with less rice) might be a good solution to all your problems. – Obie 2.0 Feb 3 '18 at 20:58
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    Order it with half the rice but say it in Korean. – user1760 Feb 5 '18 at 3:41
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I know you have an answer already, but for anyone else who wants a simple one-off to try, here's a line that has worked for me in similar situations:

[smiling] Thanks, but I like it this way.

This one preserves politeness and if said assertively avoids being further hassled, thanks to how short it is and without room for misinterpretation. It may not preserve their impression of you as a savvy culturally informed diner, but who cares?

I should say that waiters here are not so pushy as they sound where you are. But I am reminded of one out-of-the-ordinary experience when a male waiter physically elbowed me to the side to apply sauce to my lamb and mix it with rice. (Hilarious in retrospect, but in such cases, you needn't worry about being rude!)

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